MasterClass recently had a Q&A on Instagram Live with Sara Blakely, Founder of SPANX. Sara offered up practical, immediately-actionable advice for anyone who is an entrepreneur, freelancer, or has goals they want to meet. I took notes and posted them over on Medium. If you like this post, please hop over to Medium, and give it some claps!
Thank you to Sara and to Masterclass for organizing this Q&A. It’s exactly the shot in the arm I needed today. Sign up for Masterclass at https://www.masterclass.com/ and follow Sara on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/sarablakely/
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” -Rumi
We’ll be disappointed. Things won’t go as planned. Try another route. Another idea. Another pitch. These failures are all material. The detours are the journey.
“Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told, ‘I’m with you, kid. Let’s go.’“ ~Maya Angelou
I’m so glad Maya Angelou got her stories down, that she left us with such a legacy of hope, encouragement, and the unbridled belief that ordinary people can chase down extraordinary dreams. This quote that she tossed out onto Twitter about a year before she passed continues to inspire me. It’s one of my favorites, and it’s the only place where she ever wrote it down.
It conjures up a mental image for me that’s empowering and action-oriented. The very best helping hands we have are at the ends of our own arms. Use them. Build the life you want. Yes, you can do this.
The first step of a new project is hard, but there’s a lot of encouragement out there about taking it. What’s just as hard, if not harder, and what rarely gets the encouragement it needs and deserves is the next step.
Maybe your first step was more like a stumble. Maybe the first step was greeted with joy, congratulations, and that often twinge-worthy question of “what’s next for you?” Whether your first step was successful or not, what you do next has a lot of expectation behind it. I’ve always found it takes even more energy and gumption to take that next step. Too few people take it. A lot of people start things; far fewer people continue something, and even fewer actually finish what they started.
All I want you to do is take one more step toward something you want to do. Make it a leap, or make it a baby step. Just do it. I believe in you.
When I want to do something big, I spend about 30 seconds thinking about what that goal looks and feels like. Almost immediately, I move into what I call breakdown mode. I start to break apart that big, beautiful dream into bite-sized pieces. The big dream, for me, is too daunting and it’s not actionable. I make it happen, I’ve got to unpack it, dissect it, and put it into a to-do list with deadlines. And then I pick a place and begin. For my writing, it’s one word at a time. For my collage work, it’s one tiny piece of paper. For getting a new job, it’s making sure my resume is up-to-date in all its various forms and channels. You get the idea. It’s a puzzle and the best I can do is focus on one piece at a time.
When my head hits the pillow at night or when I sit down for my 18 minutes of daily meditation, I give myself a little chance to think about that shiny goal out there in the distance. I fall asleep thinking about those dreams and I wake up thinking about them. Everything in between, all my waking hours, are devoted to action. It’s the only way I know how to make things happen.
This week, the many different threads at my job started to connect. It’s immensely gratifying to learn a large and complex technology platform, all for the sake of bringing more art, theater, music, and dance to more people. The vertical learning curve is becoming a little less vertical. Or maybe I am just becoming a more adept climber.
This idea of scaling walls reminded me of this sign I saw a few months ago when I was shoulder-deep in my job search, including interviewing for my current job. I wasn’t sure what would happen in my search, or what I would do about what would happen when it did happen. (This is how my ind works. It’s in a constant state of whirring.) What I needed was a sign, so I asked for one as I made my way up Fifth Avenue from the New York Public Library to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That’s when I saw this sign in the North Face storefront: Walls are meant for climbing. And about 30 minutes later, I heard from my now current job that I was moving on to the next and final round. Less than a week later, they offered me the job.
It’s this sense of optimism, asking the Universe for guidance, and then opening our eyes and ears to take in the wisdom around us that we have to take with us everywhere we go, into every situation that we face. We may not always be successful though our odds dramatically increase when we can look at a wall not as a roadblock, but as a reason to smile. I got this. You got this. We all got this.
“Why don’t you finish your second book in the Emerson Page series by Labor Day?” my friend, Colleen, said to me.
My response: Blink. Blink. Whaaaaat?
But since she said that to me, I can’t get the thought out of my mind. I’m moved into my new apartment, I’m interviewing and job searching, and I’m catching up with friends. I can do this. I wrote my first novel, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, while working full-time at a startup in a new city.
The first novel sets up so many threads for the second and the world building piece, the heaviest lift, is done. I just need to get it all down so why not set a wild writing goal for myself? And look, Toni Morrison wrote her first novel in 15-minute increments before falling into bed each night while she was a single working mother. She made time to write. I will, too.
Thank you for the push, Colleen. I’m going for it. First draft of Emerson’s second book has a deadline of Labor Day, September 4, 2017.
There are two kinds of happiness: the one that comes from instant gratification and the one that comes from the slow slog toward a desired goal. The first makes us happy in the here and now, but it usually doesn’t last long. The second makes us happy when viewed through the arc of life but in the here and now can be difficult and uncomfortable. I’ve found that I need a good balance of both to truly feel good about life.
Art, music, good food, time with my friends, my dog, and working out are all things that make me immediately happy. Writing, working on my entrepreneurial ideas, and learning something new that I’m not yet particularly good at fall into that second bucket. It’s not that I don’t get any joy from them in the near-term; it’s just that to feel truly happy about them I need to look at them through a longer lens and with a goal in mind.
Knowing about this balance helps me figure out how to allocate my time, effort, and energy to be happy at this moment and to ensure I’m happy down the line, too.
“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between work and play.” ~L.P. Jacks
There are so many reasons that I’m excited for my new job that starts a week from today. There’s the one phrase about the respectful and professional culture in the job description that told me this is the place for me: “This is a very egalitarian operational environment…everyone has a say.” There’s the great opportunity ahead to build products based in AI, AR, and VR technology that will help people live healthier, happier lives. There is the sense of starting from a blank canvas that will rapidly be filled in to develop a prototype product in a quick handful of months. There’s the small, experienced team that will work closely together around a single table for a single goal.
And still, above all of that, what has me most excited about this opportunity is the quote above by L.P. Jacks. The roles and companies I have most loved in my career are those that didn’t feel like work at all because what I was doing was so interesting that is took my curiosity and sense of wonder to a level that felt like play. I didn’t mind the long hours, I barely noticed the time flying by, because the work itself was so satisfying that it gave me energy rather than draining it. And I am so ready to return to that kind of work.
When people ask me what I want my career and my life to be, I have to turn to L.P. Jacks and say, “Thank you for putting my whole purpose into 15 words.”